Nearly 60% cases of hearing loss in children are preventable with early intervention, says former Australian cricketer Brett Lee, emphasising the need to make the “new-born screen test” mandatory in India.
Deafness, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), refers to the complete loss of hearing ability in one or both ears, while “hearing impairment” refers to both complete and partial loss of hearing ability. Nearly 360 million people, nearly one-tenth of them children, suffer from hearing loss worldwide, WHO says.
However, “nearly 60% of these could have been prevented from an early age if the right measures were taken early,” Lee said.
“Early intervention is the most important thing for a kid to have normal hearing. There is an urgent need of making the ‘new-born screen test’ for hearing mandatory, as well as for educating parents of children with hearing loss so that they make the best intervention at the earliest,” said Lee.
Lee began spearheading the cause of hearing loss three years ago, in wake of an accident that temporarily impaired his son’s hearing.
The former pace bowler is also the Global Hearing Ambassador with global implantable hearing aid firm Cochlear.
According to a 2016 study published in the Indian Journal of Otolaryngology and Head & Neck Surgery, 63 million people suffer from significant auditory loss in India. Four in every 1,000 children suffer from severe to profound hearing loss. With over 100,000 babies that are born with hearing deficiency every year, the estimated prevalence of adult-onset deafness in India was found to be 7.6% and childhood-onset deafness to be 2%.
This is because “in India a lot of people wait till the child is five or 10 before they take him/her to an ENT specialist. Parents don’t understand the consequences of suffering hearing loss in the long term, if they don’t intervene in the first or in the second year,” Lee said.
Weighing in on Lee’s suggestions, Ameet Kishore, a Senior Consultant Surgeon, (ENT – Neurotology & Cochlear Implants) at Indraprastha Apollo Hospital, New Delhi, said that “while new-born hearing screening is certainly recommended, it is not yet mandatory. It is being carried out across various parts of the country at the behest of various professionals, professional groups, local government bodies and other organisations, but it is yet to become a universal phenomenon.”
Lee, citing the example of Kerala, the first and only Indian state to have all government hospitals implement the practice, said every state and each hospital should work towards “preventing hearing loss and making sure that every child has the distinct life that you and I have got.”
“I want to see in India that every single baby that’s born has a new-born screen test for hearing loss,” said Lee, whose son Preston Charles was five when he fell from the roof of their home in Sydney in 2011, causing him to lose his hearing in the right ear.
“I was playing in the IPL and my son had a fall back in Australia. He landed on his head and suffered a major blow on the right side of his head, his right ear and then his active hearing was impacted. For 8-12 months, there was partial hearing loss in his right ear,” Lee said.
While Preston got his hearing back after nearly a year, the incident made Lee think about parents with kids suffering from hearing loss.